New People are Scary!
I've always struggled with intimidation. When I was a little girl my nickname was “Little Jenny” and everywhere I went those around me went out of their way to take care of me so I rarely had to speak for myself. It was nice.
Fast-forward 20 years or so to when I was a newly minted financial planner looking to build a book of clients. I went the common route of endless networking events and I vividly remember the first time I went to a particularly popular women's group here in Victoria.
I walked into the room and chose a seat at a table off to the side of the room. Since I had gotten there quite early I had some time to kill before the lunch started. I awkwardly moved around the room having no clue what to say to people and feeling certain everyone around me could see my hands shaking. I even avoided getting a glass of water because I wasn't sure that I could hold onto it without spilling it.
Finally lunch started and I sat down at my table. Then across the table a gorgeous woman sat down and I felt my insides clench. Now if you aren't aware, one of the mainstays of a networking lunch is the part where you introduce yourself to everyone at your table with a 30 second commercial about who you are and what you do. I was terrified. I had practiced my elevator pitch a million times but I still wasn't convinced that it was any good. I vaguely remember stumbling through it and then the glamorous creature across the table spoke. She was confident, put together and clearly very experienced and successful. She was a home stager and, having never heard of that before, I thought she was totally out of my league. I went home with her card but was way too terrified to follow up. She intimidated the crap out of me.
Yet, here is the thing. Every story has more than one side.
Over the years I actually got to know this glamorous home stager and we became friends. One day while chatting about our shared history I told her the story of the day we met and confessed how utterly intimidated I was in her presence.
She burst out laughing! The thing was, she felt the exact same way about me!
She told me that she saw me as a young, sharp financial planner and my comfort with all things money intimidated her. Needless to say we had a good laugh over how ridiculous it all was.
So why am I telling you all this?
Here is the thing, we are all human. When you meet someone new chances are they are feeling all their own insecurities rising to the surface the same way you are. Yet, some how we still end up telling ourselves a ridiculous narrative about who this person is and what they are thinking about us.
Thankfully since those first few networking events I have learned a few things about meeting new people.
When in doubt, ask for advise
- People love giving advise. Just ask any new or expectant mothers. When you go into a situation that is potentially intimidating have one or two open ended, advise seeking questions ready to go and suddenly the conversation will flow!
Practice, practice, practice
- There is a reason that actors spend months rehearsing a play before the ever get in front of an audience. Knowing what to say and sounding intelligent when you say it can take some practice. So start in front of the mirror. If you can sound confident when you are staring your toughest critic in the face, new people will be a breeze!
- I'm not suggesting you plagiarize someone else's words but instead mimic the way the say them. Watch others' body language, how they hold themselves, what they do with their hands, the types of stories they tell, how they introduce themselves and anything else you can pick up. Take what others are doing and put your own spin on it. There is no need to reinvent the wheel here.
- People are more perceptive than we think, so don't try and hide. Authenticity is a huge buzz word right now for a good reason. We respond to people who are open and transparent about themselves. I'm not suggesting you need to go into graphic detail but a small mention that you are a bit nervous can go a long way. Opening up and telling someone you are nervous might inspire them to take you under their wing and introduce you around.
Seek out those who are standing alone
- If someone is hugging the wall, chances are they are probably feeling the same way you are. Utterly terrified and desperately wanting to make connections yet not really sure what to say. Find those people and go introduce yourself. They will be your best friend because they didn't have to make that first scary move!
Regardless of whether you have to brave the networking scene or not we will all come across a point in our lives when we have to shake hands with someone we find intimidating. In those situations I feel we always have two options.
One: we can give into our fears and doubts, stumble through the situation as quickly as possible, then run for the hills. Or…
Two: we can remember that the person on the other side of that handshake is a human with their own fears and doubts and tell our own inner critic to shove it.